Office of Merit Scholarships, Fellowships & Awards

Top 10 Ways to Help Undergraduates Succeed in National Scholarship Competitions

1.  Identify promising students early.

  • Identifying students anytime from freshmen through junior year (based on expected graduation date) will give them the most opportunities to apply for national scholarships. Seniors and alumni also have opportunities, but fewer, depending on their plans.
  • Those students who have not only outstanding intellectual ability, but also the passion to apply their learning outside the classroom in various ways (research, community engagement, internships, study abroad, etc.).
  • Those students who are already demonstrating their leadership in various ways (within the department, campus community, other communities, etc.).

2.   Refer undergraduate students to our office for advising about scholarships, other opportunities, and assistance with application processes.

3.   Mentor them by:

  • encouraging them to take challenging classes,
  • inviting them to lectures or other events,
  • introducing them to colleagues,
  • providing them with ideas about ways they can further engage their interests.

4.   Encourage them to apply for opportunities you think would be good fits for them.

  • Many students are too modest, or do not realize their own accomplishments/abilities and will not think to apply for scholarships or other opportunities without strong encouragement from mentors.

5.   Consider opportunities beyond the traditional avenues for students in your field.

  • Though there may be a standard track that leads students into top graduate programs, there is always more than one way to reach the ultimate goal and students who are willing to consider alternative tracks will almost always be stronger graduate applicants, and students, for having those experiences.
  • Some national programs to consider along this line:

6.   Respond honestly when asked to write letters of recommendation.

  • If you cannot write a strong letter of recommendation for a student, please just say no. It is far better for the student to have to find another recommender than to spend weeks or months working on an application that will be doomed by a weak or unsupportive letter.
  • If you are able to write for the student, make sure your letter has a big impact on the selection committee by including concrete examples of how the student has demonstrated the qualities you describe. A tepid letter comes across to the reader just as badly as a negative letter, so the more specific you can be about the student, his/her background and accomplishments, preparation, proposal, etc., the better.
  • See additional helpful letter writing tips.

7.   Provide feedback to students working on applications that require field-specific knowledge or proposals, and even those that do not.

8.   Participate in campus selection and interview committees.

  • Our office makes every effort to keep the time commitment limited and manageable for those committees we coordinate.
  • Serving on campus selection and interview committees is a great way to meet students and colleagues within and outside your department.
  • These opportunities also provide more avenues for you to mentor and advocate for students.

9.   Participate in mock-interviews for students who reach the interview stage of some scholarship competitions.

  • Our office helps to facilitate mock-interviews for some programs, but students may also seek this out on their own.

10.  Refer undergraduate students to our office for advising about scholarships!

  • It bears repeating and can save you and your students time and effort.